Kapaeeng Foundation launched ‘Human Rights Report 2017 on Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh’ on 29 March 2018 at Tawfiq Aziz Khan Seminar Hall, The Daily Star, Karwan Bazar, Dhaka. Renowned Human Rights Activist and Former Adviser to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh Advocate Sultana Kamal graced the event as chief guest. Among others, prominent personalities attended the event as honourable guests are Mr. Ushaton Talukder MP, Member, Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Peoples; Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim, Honorable Dean, Faculty of Social Science & Former Information Commissioner; Professor Banchita Chakma, Member, National Human Rights Commission; Mr MB Akhter, Program Director, Oxfam, and Mr. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum. The report launching program was chaired by Mr. Rabindranath Soren, Chairperson, Kapaeeng Foundation and President of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad.
The report was presented by Mr. Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation. During his presentation, Mr. Chakma states that the year 2017 was eventful for indigenous peoples as it bore evidence to 18 killings, 141 arrests of indigenous rights activists and innocent villagers, and filing of fabricated cases against 161 persons. At least five communal assaults were committed in 2017 leaving 203 people injured while 79 houses came under searches.
In her speech chief guest Sultana Kamal said, ‘indigenous peoples are forced to leave the country due to continues human rights violation. Rights violation may happen in any country of the world. However, denial of justice would not be accepted in the cases of human rights violation in the country like Bangladesh which achieved its independent through a liberation war.’ Current government should take all responsibilities of rights violation against indigenous peoples. The culture of impunity must be stopped, she further added. She urged everyone to come together and work against human rights violations.
Dr. Sadeka Halim said, the CHT Accord is a statement of the rights of indigenous peoples. However, due to non-implementation of the accord, political environment of the CHT is worsening every year. Regarding land and women rights, Dr. Halim states, indigenous peoples are being evicted from their homesteads and thus, being marginalized. Along with loss of land, indigenous women are being subject to physical and sexual violence. The respective authority should monitor the situation of human rights violation and take initiative accordingly.
Mr. Sanjeeb Drong said, government should admit human rights violations against indigenous peoples. Perpetrators of human rights violations should be brought under justice. Unfortunately, most victims do not get proper justice and many of them leave the country silently. Mr. Drong expects the government will take the launched report positively and ensure human rights of indigenous peoples.
According to Professor Banchita Chakma, in many cases, human rights violations in Chittagong Hill Tracts are perpetrated by the members of security forces. But the existing law restrict the National Human Rights Commission to investigate incidents related to security forces. Such law of the country need to be amended for ensuring human rights for all in the country, she added.
Mr. M.B Akhter alleged that due to rise of religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism, torture on minorities is increasing every year in the country. Many false cases are being lodged against the indigenous peoples, and many are losing their land in these false cases. Mr Akhter urged indigenous peoples to stand against these injustices
‘We saw in the footage of the video, police set fire to the indigenous house at the Bagda Farm in Gobindaganj. The laws seem to be blind there’- said Mr. Ushatan Talukdar MP during his speech. If necessary the entire system of law and order should be reorganized for the establishment of human rights, Mr. Talukder further said. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, many organized land grabbers, including Laden Group is grabbing the land of indigenous people with the support of local administration. If the government itself is helpless to these culprits, how the government will work, Mr. Talukder raises questions.
President of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad and chair of the event, Mr. Rabindranath Soren said that not only in the Chittagong Hill Tracts but also in the plains of Bangladesh, indigenous peoples are being evicted from their land and forced to leave the country. The government should find out the reasons behind it. Mr. Soren suggests the said problem must be dealt politically.
According to the report, in 2017, around 20,000 acres of lands belonging to indigenous peoples were brought under the process of acquisition, mostly for the establishment of special economic zones, tourism complexes, business establishments and creation of new reserve forests. Land dispute in the CHT remained unresolved during the reporting year. The implementation process of the CHT Accord, as the crux of the CHT problem, has been in limbo for long. No progress could be made in this regard as the Land Dispute Resolution Act 2001, the basis for resolving land dispute, was found contradictory to the CHT Accord in many aspects.
The report states ‘the year can be considered as one of the critical years for the indigenous peoples in view of numerous factors that contribute to make their life worse and affect their societal peace. The hate-filled-arson attack on the indigenous peoples of Longadu in Rangamati Hill District is simply horrendous in scale and nature. This hate spell aimed at burning the indigenous villages was executed on 2nd June 2017 by the Bengali settlers with an open support from the security forces and the police in Longadu under Rangamati Hill District of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. About 250 houses and shops of indigenous villagers were vandalized and looted before they were set to fire. An aged woman named Guna Mala Chakma (75) was killed in this arson attack.’
Regarding women and girls’ rights, the report states, ‘a total of 48 cases of violence against indigenous women were reported from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017. Out of 48 such cases, 20 were reported in the plains and 28 in the CHT. As of January 2017, 57 indigenous women were sexually or physically assaulted. At least 12 women were raped, 8 were killed/killed after rape while attempt to rape was made on 9 other women. Among other incidents recorded during this reporting period include 4 gang rape and 8 kidnapping. On the other hand, out of 75 alleged perpetrators, 64 were reported to be from the mainstream Bengali community and 4 from indigenous communities. The age of the victims is ranged from 3 to 75 years.
According to the report, in 2017, the government has taken a number of initiatives in regard to implementation of the CHT Accord. Foremost of them are appointment of two Chairmen of CHT Land Commission and Task Force on 10 December, and construction of CHT Complex in Dhaka. Despite so, no progress has been achieved in resolving long-standing land disputes by the Land Commission and in rehabilitating the returnee tribal refugees and internally displaced tribal families on their respective lands & homesteads by the Task Force in 2017. No single meeting of the CHT Land Commission, Task Force and CHT Accord Implementation Monitoring Committee has been held so far, and adequate funds, manpower and logistic supports have not been provided to these bodies to run their day-to-day functions in 2017.No function/subject, out of remaining 16 functions/subjects, has been transferred to the Hill District Council in 2017. Several crucial Rules of Business, such as, Rules of CHT Land Commission, Election Rules and Electoral Rules of the three Hill District Councils, etc. have been left continuous hanging and even the government did not take any initiative for amendment of any general or special law applicable in CHT despite implicitly stipulated in the Accord to do so.
Please find the links of media reports below: